Forum Debate, 12/11

Illustration by Sam Rhoden Illustration by Sam Rhoden

Is making Plan B a non-prescription drug a good idea?

 The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recently recommended that pediatricians treating teenage girls should consider writing “just-in-case” prescriptions for the morning-after pill so their teenage patients would already have the Plan B pill on hand in the event it was needed. The AAP is now the second major medical group that would make contraception more widely available to women. Early in November, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended making all birth control pills available over the counter. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration took the position that emergency contraception, know as the morning-after-pill, should be available to women of all ages. However, fearing a backlash during the president’s re-election campaign, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA and mandated that women under the age of 17 required a prescription to receive the emergency contraception measure.The AAP has now taken the position that because of the tremendous human and financial costs of an unplanned pregnancy, making these pills available to the teenage population – which studies indicate are active in their sex lives – will save society from unwanted teenage pregnancies.

The United States continues to have teen birth rates that are significantly higher than other industrialized nations. The U.S. teen birth rate is triple that found in Western Europe. Eighty percent of teen pregnancies are unplanned, and a quarter end in abortion. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that teen pregnancy costs taxpayers some $11 billion each year in medical bills and lost wages. Just half of adolescent mothers will go on to finish high school.

The most common form of emergency contraception is a high dose of a regular birth control pill such as Plan B and Plan B One-Step. The medication works by inhibiting ovulation with a high dose of levonorgestrel. It has been on the market since 1999 and after successful clinical trials, an FDA advisory panel overwhelmingly recommended that the pill be sold “over-the-counter” in 2003. The medication works most effectively if taken within 72 hours of intercourse. Having it on hand for these teenage girls, authorities believe that this medication will serve as a backstop in an emergency.

By having emergency contraception readily available, the AAP argues that it will lead to fewer young women getting pregnant and thereby fewer abortions. The battle over abortion should not hinder making this sort of safe and reliable emergency pill easily available to those who may be coerced into sex, forget to take their birth control or have a partner whose birth control method fails, such as a torn condom.

Emergency contraception remains a highly emotional and controversial issue. Advocates believe the morning-after-pill will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. Opponents believe that having emergency contraception easily available encourages teenage promiscuity and constitutes an abortion. Some also argue that parents should have a right to approve or disapprove what medication is provided to their child.

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

“Should Plan B contraception be made available to teens without consent from their parents as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics?”

Debate Left: Plan B stands for a “better” way

 By Marianne Stanley
When are we ever going to abandon our false morality and begin acting all-grown-up and intelligent when it comes to discussing sex and procreation in this country?

Plan B is not an “abortion pill” as opponents like to call it. It is a safe drug that stops ovulation so no egg is released and thus cannot be fertilized. Preventing conception in the very young is actually a very good, very sane idea not only for the young women, but for society at large.  Child abuse and neglect cost this country an estimated $124 billion each year.

While some are troubled by the fact that teens could access this contraceptive without parental consent, this view ignores the fact that most young, sexually active teens do not have the kind of home life that we delude ourselves into envisioning. America has more than its fair share of homes with child abuse or neglect. The U.S., in fact, has the highest rate of child abuse and parental killing (more than 3.3 million reports of child abuse annually and more than five children murdered every day by a parent) than any other industrialized nation. What rational mind would force pregnancy on someone who is not emotionally or financially capable of raising a child?  Never is it a good thing when a child has a child. We’re not talking a passing problem here. We’re talking about a life-altering event that should be a no-brainer when it comes to giving sexually active teens access to contraception. Moralizing and finger-pointing have their place perhaps, but this is definitely not it.

Many of the 6 million children who are abused or neglected every year have parents who are alcoholics, drug abusers or are simply incapable of properly parenting their child. In these cases, any parental consent requirement could actually put such girls in danger of further abuse or force them to give birth long before they are ready because of decisions made by their unfit or controlling parents.

Guys walk away scot free with no one wagging their finger or their tongue at irresponsible male behavior. Where are the “Christian” voices raised against the sale and use of condoms by boys and men? Why should it be any different for females? From the time we can conceive, we should also have easy access to contraception since the weight of pregnancy falls squarely on our shoulders. And at $15 a pop, we can rest assured that this pill will not be a casual part of every sexual encounter.

The strange thing is that we while some people condemn anything that prevents conception or the birth of a child, these same folks simultaneously condemn sex education, the Welfare system, food stamps, state-funded childcare and raising the minimum wage. You just can’t have it both ways. In fact, these “sanctity of life” voices seem to think life is only sacred before it is born, turning their backs on the 23 million children in this country who feel hunger every day of their young lives. Why are these voices not instead rightfully raised in calling for national policies that prevent hunger, that provide universal medical care, that fully fund high and equal standards for schools in every neighborhood regardless of property tax levels? Why aren’t they pushing for a true minimum wage that will allow workers to support their families? Why do they not call for policies that match European countries’ requirement for compassionate maternity leave, medical and vacation leave? Why aren’t they pressuring government to invest in a green economy that can finally jumpstart massive job growth while giving hope to future generations facing dire climate change? And why are these right-to-life voices not insisting that lives not be destroyed needlessly and unendingly in our fabricated “wars” that are ravaging the youth in our poorer communities while leaving the wealthy untouched?

Truth be told, there is only one possible reason for trying to keep safe contraception from our female teens: judgment, punishment, vindictiveness – retribution for “un-Christian” behavior. A compassionate, realistic, rational policy would make contraception easily available to any teen who seeks it … period.

Debate Right: Parental consent imperative for family institution

By Rob Scott

Since the early 1920s, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently protected parental rights, including it among those rights deemed fundamental, such as parents’ constitutional right to choose their children’s religion, education and make other decisions. As a fundamental right, parental liberty is to be protected by the highest standard of review: the compelling interest test. This means the state would be required to show a compelling interest for the government to restrict one’s liberty. Thus, the high court has stated for nearly 100 years the fundamental constitutional right for parents to raise their children how they see fit, with some exceptions.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement concerning emergency contraceptives and their availability to children and teenagers. They did so after issuing a letter of appeal on the first anniversary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sibelius’ decision to maintain age restrictions on the drug.

The AAP believes the drug should be made available without a prescription and possibly over-the-counter without children having a prescription or their parents’ consent.

For those adults who choose not to practice responsible sexual health and want to take protective measures to ensure they will eliminate any chance of pregnancy, the debate was over when the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) chose to approve the drug for sale in 2006. Currently, those under 17 years old are allowed to purchase Plan B with either parental consent or a doctor’s prescription.

Now the AAP is saying children should be allowed to take an emergency contraception pill without consulting a doctor or their parents. These same children cannot get a job, license, change schools or receive a prescription without parental consent. Hence, the term children.

The decision to allow children to purchase emergency contraceptives without parental consent is a direct threat to the family institution. As the institution of family continues to dwindle in the United States, the question of parental authority and the government’s role in the family is at a crucial point.

According to a press release issued on the website of the AAP, Sydney Spiesel, Ph.D., M.D., a professor of clinical pediatrics at the Yale University School of Medicine and strong proponent of the lifting of age restrictions states, “Kids and adults do things impulsively and sometimes thoughtlessly. Kids in particular are not well developed in thinking of long-term consequences.”

Allowing children access to Plan B encourages and does not discourage impulsivity and thoughtlessness, ultimately teaching children such behavior has no consequences. This is just one more step in creating an environment of irresponsibility and cutting parents out of major decisions in their children’s lives.

Plan B is not an aspirin and cannot be treated as such. The AAP contends not only is there strong data to point to the safety of Plan B for use by women of all ages, but that the drug will reduce teen pregnancy in the United States.

Although the AAP claims the drug is safe for use by all ages, the easy availability of the product will do great harm to the sexual health of our children, promoting the belief that there are no consequences to irresponsible sexual behavior and will discourage children from having the discussion with their parents.

For the government to remove age restrictions on the purchase of Plan B, they are taking one more step in taking decisions away from parents and making the United States a true nanny state.  Although I’m not a parent presently, if I become a parent, I would not want the government making parenting decisions for me. Thankfully, for many years now the Supreme Court has agreed.

For anyone at any age, to take Plan B is a life-changing decision. Parents have a right to know if heir child who they love and invested time in is going to make such a decision. Parents have a compelling interest in their children.

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